As at 23 January 2018

The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) convened a conference call with the Department of Immigration to clarify questions and concerns in relation to Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) changes. Below is updated information on those changes and on proposed changes for the future.

Key points

  • People on SRSS will be assessed as to their fitness to work and will be expected to find work if assessed as job ready.
  • SRSS providers will be able to make referrals to an employment support program [the Department was unclear as to the name of the program, but we believe it will likely be jobactive] to assist people into work.
  • The timeframe is not yet determined but will roll out progressively this year (over a few months).
  • People who are not able to work because of caring responsibilities, physical or mental health issues, or disability will have further assessments and reviews and will need to provide evidence.
  • The Department’s view is that if people are able to study, then they are able to work, so people studying will be expected to support themselves and will not be eligible for SRSS financial assistance.
  • Money transfers (overseas or domestically) are permitted as long as they total less than $1000 in any 12-month period. Debts will only arise if transfers above the threshold are made after 3 November 2017. Almost all other debts prior to this time have been reversed.
  • Further information will be communicated as details are confirmed, with the Department committed to providing national statistics and a breakdown by state/territory, age, and SRSS band.

Background

SRSS is a program designed to advance status resolution without a substantive visa and is for people in financial hardship who have less than $4,500 in liquid assets. The current framework for the SRSS program saw a major change in the last budget whereby people who had a negative decision at review (either the Immigration Assessment Authority or the Administrative Appeals Tribunal) would not have default eligibility for SRSS support. There is limited scope for vulnerable people in exceptional circumstances to receive certain supports via the SRSS program after the review determination.

Policy settings in the past (i.e. lack of work rights) have meant that people have had to rely on income support. With the majority of people now issued with Bridging Visas with work rights, the scope of the program will evolve.

Policy rationale and future program

The Department advised that for people undergoing the protection assessment process and engaged in SRSS, they will be assessed as to their ability to work (job readiness). In line with the purpose of the SRSS program, there is an expectation that individuals who are fit and able to work will actively seek employment. The Department advised that there will be additional support available to people assessed as able to work, and this includes referral to a jobactive provider.[1] The referral to employment support will come from individuals’ SRSS agencies, with these additional supports provided for in the current contract arrangements. The Department advised that people would not be left without income, but some details in relation to the assessment process, transitions and other aspects are still under development.

The current SRSS contracts will be extended, barring two providers. Transitional arrangements and other details will be discussed among contracted services and the Department in late February. After this time, the Department will look to embed the application of the new fitness to work assessments and referral processes within a few months.

Job readiness assessments

The Department expects most of the assessments to be simple and straightforward, with discussion among Departmental officers, SRSS providers, and status resolution officers the core aspect of the assessment process. For people with physical or mental health issues or people with a disability, there is likely to be the requirement of additional medical reviews (either treating medical providers and/or independent medical officers).

There will be no groups of people specifically excluded; rather, there will be individualised assessments and decisions. Reviewing or challenging assessments will be via the Department (with possible facilitation by SRSS providers), and the review process will be internal.

Study

The policy in relation to study is that, if a person is able to work but chooses to study full-time or part-time, then they should not be eligible for SRSS. The definition of ‘full-time’ is not the critical factor, although ‘full-time’ would depend on whether the institution considers them enrolled full-time.

Study is permitted (unless there is a condition on the visa) but the Department’s view is that if people are able to study, then they are able to work, so people studying will be expected to support themselves.

Assessments in relation to study will be undertaken as part of the more general re-assessment process, so people should not have been exited from SRSS solely because of full-time study. The Department is keen to hear about any cases whereby someone was exited from the program because of study. The Department also indicated that SRSS debts are not expected to be raised in relation to study.

People on temporary substantive visas and then seeking protection

The Department explained that the shift in SRSS eligibility for people on substantive visas (e.g. student or visitor) is more a case of stricter enforcement of the policy settings. The Department expects that it will be a small program for exceptional circumstances and not the general principle to support people in the situation, as they are expected to arrive in Australia with means to support themselves. However, in genuinely exceptional circumstances such as a person fleeing a family violence situation who is in real financial hardship, the Department could consider these cases through SRSS providers.

Key issues to communicate to the Department:

  • That people must not be exited from SRSS before they have a form of alternative income;
  • That the Department communicate directly with non-SRSS providers who are working with people impacted by these changes;
  • That re-consideration be given in relation to the loss of Red Cross as a contracted agency. Red Cross has been a leader in the asylum support space for decades and has led best practice. The loss of their expertise and leadership would be damaging to individuals, the sector, and the objectives of the Department.

[1] The Department was unclear on the name of the program, but it is a Commonwealth-funded program and is likely to be jobactive.